Mole Man’s cellar features in Tom Hunter’s Hackney photos

The photos in Tom Hunter’s latest project, Unheralded Stories, have all been inspired by tales he has heard from Hackney residents – and all of them were shot in the borough.

With the pictures, some ethereal, some exotic, the 45-year-old wanted to show that you don’t need to travel the world to find amazing landscapes and stories, because they are all around you.

“It’s almost like I want to show the whole world is in Hackney,” said the 45-year old who lives in Eleanor Road, London Fields.

By way of example he talks about the beautiful shot of a woman underneath a waterfall.

It was 5am and his friend Claire was standing below the bitterly cold Regent’s Canal sluice in Victoria Park as the sun rose.

“I always said when I was younger I would go to Victoria Falls in Africa, but I’ve bought Africa to Hackney,” said Tom, who is best known for his photo sculpture The Ghetto, now on permanent display at the Museum of London.

“It’s about getting people to look at the ordinary life around them, and to look at it in more magical terms,” he said.

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“What painters like Caravaggio have created is seen as something magical now, but our life in Hackney is magical too.

“What I do is take the people around me and put them on a larger stage, with gods and angels and dragons and monsters.”

Given that Tom is influenced by myths and legends, it is fitting that the collection portrays one of Hackney’s greatest legends, the Mole Man, in the underworld for which he is famous.

Tom bumped into William Lyttle just around the corner from his house in Mortimer Road, after a meal in a Vietnamese restaurant.

The oddball gained worldwide fame as the Mole Man after he spent 40 years digging a 60-foot network of tunnels beneath his �1 million home.

“I think he started the conversation, asking us where we had been that night, and he went into a rant about the council and about how they were trying to get him. He wanted someone to confess his grievance to,” said Tom, who, having read all about the Mole Man in the Hackney Gazette, realised who was talking to him.

Mr Lyttle invited him back to his house and Tom got a glimpse of the Aladdin’s cave of junk inside – just weeks before the Mole Man was evicted by the council in 2008.

“It looked like a bomb site and he showed me his little tunnels. It reminded me of a bit of a scrapyard and the mentality of some folk where I grew up in Dorset,” said Tom.

“He’s a hoarder, which you can afford to do in the countryside when you have land – but he’s taken that mentality to the city, and he’s expanded his empire into the subterranean world.”

Although he didn’t want himself to be photographed, Mr Lyttle allowed Tom to go back a couple of weeks later to mock up a photo that he describes as a “subterranean underworld of Hades, showing the Mole Man laid out in a hell of his own making”.

“Sadly, the Mole Man passed away this year, so the work becomes an epitaph to a great life,” said Tom.

Unheralded Stories is on display at Purdy Hicks Gallery, Bankside, SE1, until January 15.